Sheep play role in restoring park for tourists
By Kerry Drohan, Globe Staff, 9/9/2001

CONCORD - Performance art at Minute Man National Historical Park reached a
new level last week when a troupe of 330 natural actors arrived, baaing and
bleating.

Pleasing the tourists is only one reason why these sheep are at Hartwell
Tavern's interpretive history exhibit, mingling with other actors in period
costume. The flock's main purpose is to supply an organic and ancient method
of controlling some of the park's invasive vegetation, by eating it.

''Each animal will eat between four and eight pounds of day of green
vegetation,'' according to Dick Henry, owner of Bellwether Solutions of
Concord, N.H., which leases sheep for vegetation management. ''With hundreds
of sheep, that turns into tons of vegetation every day. And because sheep
are basically inch-wide mowing machines, self-propelled, they can get into
places you can't get to with a mower.''

Minute Man is a player in this pilot project among Bellwether Solutions, the
Trustees of Reservations, the Carlisle Conservation Commission, the Carlisle
Conservation Foundation, the Concord Natural Resources Commission, and the
Concord Land Conservation Trust. The sheep finished nibbling their way
through the towns last week and moved into the park.

Nancy Nelson, park superintendent, said she hopes the sheep can help fulfill
part of the park's mission - restoring the landscape to the way it looked
226 years ago.

''We have huge problems with catbriar, bittersweet, poison ivy, and
buckthorn, among others,'' Nelson said. ''It's a constant struggle to
maintain the overgrown fields, which were historically open.''

Nelson said she hopes to graze the sheep through November in several
locations around the 980-acre park, including along Battle Road (Route 2A),
scene of the first battle between Colonists and British regulars in April
1775.

''It would be a great thing for people who regularly use the Battle Road and
may not be aware of its historical significance to see agriculture continue
there,'' Nelson said. ''We're hopeful that using sheep will prove to be an
excellent way to maintain and interpret the historic landscape. They
definitely add to the historic ambiance.''

The sheep also add to the peace of mind for those concerned about overkill
from mowing machines or herbicides. That was a major motivation for Concord,
according to Hasso Ewing, chairwoman of the Natural Resources Commission.

''For us, the control of invasives without using herbicides or a gas-powered
mower is important,'' she said. ''It's an experiment, simply another form of
land management. We'll keep track of the results over a few years.''

Last week the flock finished grazing a 7-acre site at Punkatasset, a Concord
conservation site that includes Hutchin's Pond.

''That land is an historical old orchard, totally overrun with buckthorn and
honeysuckle,'' Ewing said. ''We see the sheep as an opportunity to reclaim
that orchard, for its high wildlife value.''

Bellwether Solutions pioneered the use of sheep to clear vegetation from
power lines four years ago when Henry, a former president of the Audubon
Society of New Hampshire, suggested his idea to Public Service of New
Hampshire.

''After the laughter died down, we got the initial contract,'' said Henry.
''Now we're the only company doing this on a large-scale basis in the
East.''

In similar pilot projects, Henry's sheep have reclaimed acres of pastures
and fields at Appleton Farms in Ipswich, and cleared Choate Island in Essex
of nasty bittersweet. Now his 2,400 sheep are dispersed widely, with the
local contingent munching at Minute Man, 1,000 or so clearing beneath the
power lines in New Hampshire, 600 gnawing invasive kudzu in Tallahassee,
Fla., and dozens more dining at smaller sites around New England.

Henry said he plans to expand the flock, and is negotiating contracts with
another major utility and with the Army Corps of Engineers, grazing the
steep banks of a flood-control dam.

''The idea is important, I think, because it is using agriculture to provide
a service rather than a commodity,'' Henry said. ''There's a lot of
potential. Many industries other than electric utilities spend a huge amount
on vegetation management. We're giving folks another tool with which to
manage vegetation, often one that is preferable to the alternatives.
Fundamentally, that is a good thing.''

This story ran on page W1 of the Boston Globe on 9/9/2001.
Copyright 2001 Globe Newspaper Company.
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